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Robert L. Hall v. Michael J. Astrue

April 18, 2013


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Thomas M. Digirolamo United States Magistrate Judge


Robert L. Hall ("Plaintiff" or "Claimant") brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner"), denying his claim for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB")

under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C.§§ 401-433. Before the Court are Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (Pl.'s Mot. Summ., ECF No. 20) and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Def.'s Mot. Summ., ECF No. 24). No hearing is deemed necessary. Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md.). For the reasons presented below, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.

I. Procedural History

Plaintiff filed his application on December 6, 2004 alleging disability since February 24, 2004 (subsequently amended to September 1, 2004) due to severe pain, muscle spasms,, inability to sit or stand, cramps in legs, inability to lift, bend, twist or turn and barely the ability to walk.

R. at 15, 69-71, 83. His claim was denied initially and on reconsideration. R. at 45-50. On February 26, 2007, a hearing was held before an administrative law judge ("ALJ") at which Plaintiff and a vocational expert ("VE") testified. R. at 228-54. Plaintiff was represented by counsel. In a decision dated June 18, 2007, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's request for benefits. R. at 12-23. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision subject to judicial review. R. at 5-7.

After Plaintiff filed an appeal in this Court, the case was remanded by consent of the parties. See Hall v. Commissioner, Civ. Action No. 8:08-cv-00108-JKS, ECF No. 20. On remand, the Appeals Council determined that further remand to the ALJ was not necessary, adopted and supplemented the findings in the ALJ's June 18, 2007 decision, and determined that Claimant was not disabled. R. at 258-63.

II. Decision of the Appeals Council

The Appeals Council adopted the findings of the ALJ who utilized the sequential process set forth in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. At the first step, the ALJ found Claimant had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his alleged amended onset date. At step two, the ALJ determined that Claimant suffered from the following severe impairments: disorders of the back (discogenic and degenerative), diabetes and carpal tunnel syndrome. At step three, the ALJ found that his impairments did not meet or equal the Listings of Impairments set forth in 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt, P, app. 1. The ALJ concluded at step four that, given his Residual Functional Capacity ("RFC") Plaintiff was incapable of performing his past relevant work. At step five, the ALJ concluded that Claimant was capable of performing jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy. Accordingly, he concluded that Claimant was not disabled. R. at 12-23, 258-63.

III. Standard of Review

The role of this court on review is to determine whether substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's decision and whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards.

42 U.S.C. § 405(g)(1994 & Supp. V 1999); Pass v. Chater, 65 F.3d 1200, 1202 (4th Cir. 1995); Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990). Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)). It is more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance, of the evidence presented. Shively v. Heckler, 739 F.2d 987, 989 (4th Cir. 1984). It is such evidence that a reasonable mind might accept to support a conclusion, and must be sufficient to justify a refusal to direct a verdict if the case were before a jury. Hays, 907 F.2d at 1456 (quoting Laws v. Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640, 642 (4th Cir. 1966)). This court cannot try the case de novo or resolve evidentiary conflicts, but rather must affirm a decision supported by substantial evidence. Id.

IV. Discussion

Plaintiff argues that the Appeals Council erroneously assessed his RFC. In his June 18, 2007 decision, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was capable of light work with a sit/stand option (stand 15-30 minutes before alternating to sitting 15-30 minutes). He must avoid climbing ropes, scaffolds and ladders but can perform other postural movements like stooping on an occasional basis. He must avoid repetitive constant ...

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